Language Play: Stages of Language and Resources for Practice

Grammarsizes

When kids are little, we enjoy the quirky ways they express their ideas. We hear them say funny, ungrammatical things, and it delights us to hear them grapple with the English language. These errors show a developing repertoire of grammatical forms. When they say “mans” and “falled,” they show an understanding of the underlying rules of English grammar. They’ve listened to language around them enough to simplify and use morphological rules (for example, plurals are the noun plus an “s” sound at the end of the noun; past tense is the verb plus “t” and “d” sounds at the end of the verb). This shows a pretty sophisticated understanding! If we look carefully, we see that children learn the basic rules or patterns first, then generalize them (like “goed” for “went”). And then they notice the exceptions; those pesky details that break the rules. Of course, English is a hybrid language, so there are MANY exceptions. Eventually they create models in their minds of what “sounds” right as a guide.

Some children, for several potential reasons, may have trouble noticing or hearing the exceptions to the basic rules in the adult language around them. It could be caused by many things including different brain wiring, lack of attention to detail, difficulty organizing speech into patterns. Or it could be living in a stressful environment, emotional issues, or having recurring ear infections that make listening difficult at a critical period for learning. For these children, grammatical development appears stalled, and their expression sounds “young” to us. Many of these children need clear instructions and lots of practice to acquire adult grammar. They need to learn the underlying rules and they need to establish their own models in order to hear and decide what sounds correct. For parents, it’s difficult to tell if there’s a problem, because if you’ve ever spent time in a kindergarten classroom, you know that all kids are developing at different rates in different areas. Their language skills are so diverse that listening to different children speak, it’s very hard to tell what is expected! That’s where language screenings by speech language pathologists are helpful to identify if there are any gaps.

There have been many studies of morphological development that guide therapists and teachers. I use one by Brown (1973) which is the basis of many standardized language tests:

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Other grammatical formations develop over time , such as negation (“No” changes to “I don’t want to”), and question formation (“Can I?” changes to wh-questions) (“Where it is?” changes to “Where is it?”).

For more information on Brown’s Stages of Language and time frames for them, check out Brown’s Stages of Language Development.

The good news for parents is that there are apps for extra practice that an SLP may suggest for home practice. Here are a few I suggest from Superduper, Inc. for practice after explicit instruction in speech sessions:

  • Regular Past Tense Verbs
  • Irregular Past Tense Verbs
  • Plurals Fun Deck
  • Using “I and Me” Fun Deck
  • “WH” Question cards
  • “WH” Questions at School

I also use the Question Sleuth by Zorten for practice using questions “Where” and “Is.” Before each turn the child must say “Where is the star? Is it under the _____?”

Remember to never directly correct a child’s grammar. Rather, repeat what they say “your” way (model) and then quickly respond to what they are trying to tell you. If you spend too much time on correction, they will feel like you aren’t listening to them. Reinforce correct productions when you notice them, “I heard you use ‘the.’ Nice job!”

As a parent, supporting your child’s language development is complex. You can seek advice and use guidelines. Most of all, don’t forget to relax and enjoy being with your family!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Image credit: (ccl) Tom Magliery]

Language Play: Speech Articulation

Speech Articulation

If your child is not understood by teachers, peers or relatives, they may have multiple speech errors. To help your child speak with confidence, take time to support their expression by listening to them.

It’s holiday vacation time and family time! Hooray! This is a good time to check out our children’s communication skills. But how is a parent to know what is typical?

Children go through steps to learn to articulate speech sounds just like the steps children take to develop motor skills for learning to walk (crawling, standing, walking while holding on to furniture, taking steps independently) or learning to write cursive (practice, practice, practice). But some parents are unaware of the steps to expect with speech and the developmental time frames to see them emerge. In order to communicate with words, children start by listening. That’s why the first thing to check if you can’t understand a child is their hearing. It is especially important that children hear well in the first few years of life when they are listening to language so intensely. It is critical for children to not miss these listening opportunities in order to prevent speech and language delays.

If given good listening opportunities, our children go through a developmental process of learning placement and movements of the articulators (tongue, jaw, teeth, lips and palate) that take the air stream coming from the vocal folds and alter it to mimic the sounds they hear. — Monolingual babies at six months of age can differentiate the speech sounds of all languages but at a year old they can only discriminate the sounds that they hear in the environment of their families. Here is an interesting article about bilingual speech perception: “Hearing Bilingual: How Babies Sort Out Language.”

Most children begin speech using the sounds they can easily see on the lips of their family members such as “m” (mama), “p”(papa), “b” (baba), “w” (wawa). Other sounds may not be mastered until as late as age eight, such as “s” and “r.” Baby talk is fine for babies, but when English speech sound errors continue past age eight, it can affect both academics (speech productions are the basis for reading and writing words) and social interactions (peers may avoid children they don’t understand). If a child is aware that others can’t understand them, they may shut down and stop trying to express their ideas. Children who have these problems may not know that teachers can help them communicate and may feel helpless. Most articulation errors are not due to physical disabilities, but result from not learning correct production of speech sounds. These children benefit from explicit instruction on how to produce correct sounds; lots of practice of speech sounds in isolation, different positions in words, and phrases or sentences; and compensation strategies to increase listeners’ understanding.

Some suggestions to parents: Read the rest of this entry »

Language Play: Scripts for Kids to Express Feelings & Desires

The Language of Emotion

Having a visual representation of the degree of emotions can free children to explain how they feel throughout their day.

I work with children who can’t communicate their feelings easily. Some children who can’t speak at all give up on using subtle behaviors because they’re ignored or misunderstood by others. They may use extreme behaviors to get others’ attention. If these children are taught effective ways to express their feelings, negative behaviors often diminish or even disappear. Our feelings always come out, one way or another!

As a speech-language pathologist, it’s my job to notice children’s’ communication skills. Do they have ways to express themselves when they feel things? Do they have the vocabulary to express their emotions? Do they have scripts to express their emotions?

Recently, a mother asked me to work with her child to help him express his feelings. First we made sure he had the basic vocabulary of emotions such as happy, sad, angry, proud, etc. We looked at the facial expressions that go with these words (With older children, we look up the basic words in a thesaurus to discover the many words that can be used).  Sometimes we played games with emotional faces and decided which emotions they represented. We chose from lists of emotions and acted them out in pantomime for the other person to guess. We talked about what makes people feel these emotions. Did he ever feel them and when?

Still, this child almost always told me he was happy and stayed away from those other scary emotions. But the biggest improvement came when I made two yellow triangles to represent the degrees of emotional feelings: BIG (bottom portion of the triangle), MEDIUM (center portion), or LITTLE (up at the top). We used one in his speech language sessions and one went on his home refrigerator. Having a visual representation of the degree of his emotions apparently freed him to explain how he felt throughout his day. “It was a big sad,” he told me when his grandmother’s dog died.

If your children have trouble expressing their feelings, another thing you can do to help them is to model your thinking process aloud for them. Just say what you’re thinking out loud, such as: “Sometimes when people promise things and don’t do what they promise, it makes me feel very disappointed.” Children are often relieved to discover that adults feel the same ways they do. Just make sure you express yourself in a quiet, factual way; that way it’s not scary and it shows it’s okay for your children to express their own feelings. Your goal is to make it feel safe for them to talk to you about their feelings anytime.

Give your child “scripts” to express feelings and desires that are hard for them. Think about what you would say if you felt like they do and give them two choices for expressing it effectively. For example, when a child pushed my arm away from his blocks, I told him to tell me either that he doesn’t want me to help right now or that he wants to do it himself this time. He immediately  repeated, “I want to do this myself this time.” We both felt better about the interchange.

And don’t forget to ask about their feelings after you’ve ventured out for a Hilltown Families event, the upcoming Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night! Was it a big, medium, or a little feeling? For me, going to a Hilltown Families event is always a Big Happy!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

Language Play: Get Social to Support Language Development

Social Skills: Time to Share!

Halloween is a great opportunity to have your children share their excitement socially! Kids love to have conversations about their costumes, where they got the idea, what they’re doing today, their all-time favorite Halloween, the scariest thing that happened….Don’t forget to encourage them to ask questions back to their listeners to make it a true conversation.

There’s a buzz about social skills these days. There’s such a tendency for all of us to be so involved with technology that we have less time for face-to-face social experiences. A few years ago, I read all of my grandfather’s diaries, from the turn of the century until the 1970s. I was amazed at his social life as a teacher in New York City! Every night after work and before dinner, my grandparents went to the park across the street where they met their neighbors. After dinner, they had people over to play bridge, canasta, and Scrabble, to listen to concerts or baseball games on the radio, or to watch the latest invention (television) together. Every day of the week! It was a golden age of social interaction!

If you’re at all concerned about promoting social skills for your children, you’ve come to the right place! Hilltown Families is the perfect answer. Start picking those events to go to! Every one of them is a social experience! That’s why I choose to write here. This website fosters what I care about: Social skills and language development.

After you’ve attended a Hilltown Families event, a great idea is to encourage your children to tell others who weren’t there about what you did. Perhaps they could call their grandparents, or write them a letter. If they need help to organize their ideas, use “what, who, where, when, how, and why questions” as a starting point.

Another place that fosters social skills is Michelle Garcia-Winner’s breakthrough website www.socialthinking.com. Garcia-Winner has revolutionized the way we (especially speech- language pathologists and educators) help people who have social interaction deficits. She believes learning new ways to think socially will help people to navigate the world of dynamic social relationships. She gives us a framework and vocabulary, as well as books and games to support these skills.

I’ve also been thinking about dinner times in a new light lately. I always advised parents who have children who stutter to use dinnertime sharing so that every family member could have a turn to share at their own pace and with little pressure (you are always allowed to pass if you have nothing to share). I know it might be difficult for families to eat together every day; but when you do, remember what a great opportunity to model social behavior and language it truly is! Parents can model many skills until children learn and participate. Skills such as listening and expressing, asking clarification questions, learning how to engage in verbal routines, thinking about main ideas and big picture thinking (“What are two things that happened that you want to share tonight?”), organizing your thoughts, perspective-taking, explaining, describing, processing events, narrating, using emotional vocabulary, using turn-taking skills and politeness scripts in conversation! Holy cow! It’s a true feast of language skills!

Halloween is today! It’s another great opportunity to share the excitement socially! Kids love to have conversations about their costumes, where they got the idea, what they’re doing today, their all-time favorite Halloween, the scariest thing that happened….Don’t forget to encourage them to ask questions back to their listeners to make it a true conversation.

So in or out of the house, share and have a great time!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kathy Puckett

Kathy is a private practice speech-language pathologist living in Shelburne, MA and the author of our monthly speech and language column, Time to Talk. Living in Western Massachusetts since 1970, she raised two children here and has two grandsons, ages 15 and 8 years old. She has worked as an SLP with people of all ages for the last 14 years. She runs social thinking skill groups and often works with teens. As a professional artist, she has a unique and creative approach to her practice. She loves technology, neurology, gardening, orchids, and photography. She uses an iPad for therapies. She grows 500 orchids and moderates her own forum for orchid growers (Crazy Orchid Lady). Kathy is dedicated to the families of her private practice, and offers practical, creative ideas to parents. She blogs about communication at kathypuckett.com

[Photo credit: (ccl) Jonas Seaman]

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